Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Titles and Such

Titles are great.  I enjoy coming up with them.  But the ones I come up with, I’m not always entirely happy with.  That’s why it takes me forever and a day to settle on one.    It took me two years to come with a title for my novel that’s going to be published here in the next few months.  I’m still thinking and tinkering with a title for a novel I finished almost eight years ago.  And that’s why I admire what I feel are such good titles.  In a few carefully chosen words, a good title can encapsulate a theme or message or point of a story and catch a person’s interest in the process.  Whether the title came from agonizing hours, days, months, or years of thought, or just dropped into the writer’s lap like a gift from Heaven, a good title is, well, just that—good.

I had a professor once that told us students that the Bible and Shakespeare’s works are great places to find titles.  And she wasn’t kidding.  The poetic writing in each work lends itself to many meaningful phrases ideal for titles.  My husband tells me to look for phrases in my own works to find that long search-for title.  But alas, as good as these ideas are, I’ve had no luck.  And when I do try to come up with a meaningful phrase for a title on my own it usually ends up sounding like a bad Lifetime movie.

I used to be a fan of one-word titles.  One of my stories in my graduate thesis, “Eclipse” (yes, this was long before the wretched Twilight) focused on a young girl married to a pompous older man who refused to come to her church choir solo in favor of watching an eclipse.  I meant it to capture not only the event mentioned in the story but also the symbolism of how the girl’s husband stands in her way, yet is still unable to completely shut out the rays of her beauty, much how the moon is unable to completely shut out the sun’s rays during an eclipse.  I must tell you, it was easy coming up with that title, probably because I came up with it as I was writing the story.  And it seemed good at the time but the more I thought about it, the more . . . clichéd it became.  It was too short, too trivial or something.  Yes, it captured the message to an extent but in a very obvious way.  I needed something deeper, something more.  In short, I needed a better title, one that captured what the story was about in a few carefully chosen words. 

And that’s something that takes effort.  Worthwhile effort. 

I’m always seeing titles here and there that I admire, titles I wonder about how long it took the author to come up with.  And as I write and think about this next story, there are more than a few I turn over in my mind.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes—a fascinating story of how a woman has to move into the darkest corner of her mind to learn how to get out of a brutally violent relationship from which there seems no escape.  Not only is the title intriguing but the story is as well.  It’s one I’m going to revisit on my blog again soon.

Just after Sunset by Stephen King—I love titles that describe a time of day, and this one is a lovely time of day that conjures lovely images even if the story doesn’t.  It’s also a time of day that is dark, just like many of King’s stories.

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III—This one is a prime example of how the Bible lends wonderful titles.  The story centers on a woman whose house was wrongfully taken by the county and the man who innocently bought it and their ultimately tragic battle to each keep the home.

The General’s Daughter—Okay, so this wasn’t the greatest film, but I love titles that are a person’s description (not name, mind you).  This title character’s death provokes the plot, and it shows her importance.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck—Like titles describing people or times of day, I love place titles, too.  Here, Steinbeck uses a beautiful place, but right away lets readers know that this is not the exact setting of his story.  It is east of it.  Or is it? How far east?  Is this even the setting? All of this makes it interesting to me.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin—This title invokes wonder of royalty and power and the gaining of both being a game that one plays.  What kind of game, and at what cost?  And what exactly does one win if he/she wins the game? What does one lose?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers—Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and describing the heart, an organ long synonymous with love, as a lonely hunter, well, that just grabs me right away!

So, are there any titles that have grabbed you and didn’t let go? I’d love to hear them.  I’m open to films and songs as well as books!


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